Leyton Bickford has played somewhat under the radar of Maine’s high school basketball world for the last three years while starring for a Sanford High School program that went 20-34 during that span.
But the rugged 6-foot-6-inch junior forward has become well-known in college basketball recruiting circles — a stage of his career that concluded Sunday with his verbal commitment to accept a full athletic scholarship from the University of Maine beginning in the fall of 2020.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said.
Bickford was further motivated to attend UMaine by his interest in the school’s mechanical engineering program, as his father is an engineer.
“My strong suit is math and science, and as I’ve been going through high school I’ve developed an interest in engineering by myself and not just because of my dad,” he said. “But I think it all began with my dad.”
Bickford’s sister, Gabrielle, is a sophomore at UMaine.
“I feel like I was able to make my commitment early because this my home state, they had my major and I have family close by,” he said. “It seemed like the perfect fit for me, especially after I went up and visited. It was a pretty easy decision.”
UMaine head coach Richard Barron is prohibited by NCAA rules from commenting on a recruit until the university has received a signed NLI.
Bickford is set to sign his National Letter of Intent officially accepting the scholarship offer in November.
Bickford is a three-year starter at Sanford and ranked among the Class AA leaders statewide last winter with averages of 17.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game while earning All-Southwestern Activities Association first-team status.
Sanford (6-13) finished sixth in the Heal Points and lost to No. 3 South Portland 65-39 in the Class AA South quarterfinals.
Bickford was named to the SMAA All-Rookie team as a freshman at Sanford, then earned All-SMAA honorable mention recognition after averaging 14.4 points and 9.1 rebounds as a sophomore.
“I decided to focus on basketball after my sophomore year and this year I’ve actually been working on it every day, sometimes three times a day, to get my shots down and my moves right,” he said. “I want to develop into more of a wing player who can shoot and get to the rim rather than a big man like I’ve been known in Maine because I’ve been the tallest player on my team.”
Bickford also has played football at Sanford, where last fall he caught 20 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns as a tight end on offense and registered 21 solo tackles, 16 assists and a quarterback sack at defensive end. The Spartans reached the Class A South semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Thornton Academy of Saco 47-7.
Bickford visited the UMaine campus in early April and left impressed by what he experienced.
“I think they embrace the point of being a family and growing as a team instead of someone being the superstar of the team,” he said. “It’s really like a family relationship.”
The Black Bears finished the 2018-2019 season 5-27 overall and 3-13 in America East play. UMaine’s season ended with a 73-57 loss at top-seeded Vermont in the conference quarterfinals.
Bickford is the eighth-rated prospect in the Maine class of 2020 by New England Recruiting Report but is the top-ranked interscholastic player in his class. The top seven Maine players in those ratings are prep school players at Hyde School of Bath, Lee Academy, Gould Academy in Bethel and Bridgton Academy.
“I don’t think a lot of people really know him because he plays at Sanford,” said Robert Pillsbury, director of basketball operations for Bickford’s AAU program, Blue Wave Basketball. “He doesn’t get as much recognition as he should but he can shoot it, he can put it on the floor and he plays above the rim. He’s a big 6-6 kid who can do everything.”
Pillsbury said other schools that expressed recent interest in Bickford included McNeese State and Massachusetts.
“If he would have left his recruitment open he would have been in a mid-major school or higher,” Pillsbury said.
“The thing with Leyton is that his motor doesn’t stop, he just goes after everything. He gets loose rebounds and he’s able to push people around a little bit because of his size. I think he’s got a bright future at Maine.”